'Distracted Drivers' Increase Dangers On Oklahoma Roads

Friday, April 11th 2014, 6:33 pm

Law enforcement is pushing the dangers of texting while driving, especially to young drivers. But it's certainly not just young people; plenty of adults check email, text and talk while they're driving too.

There's a paradox in Oklahoma, being distracted while driving isn't against the law, unless a driver gets into an accident.

On Friday, 350 teenagers stood in silence watching a mock accident at Metro Christian Academy. The scene involved a young man drinking and texting while driving. He caused an accident that killed somebody and was arrested, while the dead boy's parents were devastated.

While it was made up, the reality of distracted driving is that it led to 11,000 accidents in Oklahoma in 2012. Over 700 people were hurt and 10 died.

Texting while driving is not illegal in Oklahoma, one of just seven states where it's not.

"Whenever we saw people getting behind the wheel drinking and driving, we passed a law to stop that. Texting and driving is just as bad and we need our legislators to realize that," said Daniel Karnes with AAA Oklahoma.

AAA Oklahoma lobbied lawmakers for a ban on texting again this year and, again, it failed.

"If we had a new law that targeted just that they were on a phone, that would help," said Tulsa Police Officer, Craig Murray.

Police officers and state troopers describe distracted drivers as a growing threat to everyone else on the road. They've seen what can happen first hand.

So has Kristine Mertes, who was hit head on by a texting driver four years ago and nearly died.

"It all amounts to people not paying attention to their driving and being able to assess their surroundings," Mertes said.

Read Proposed Bill To Ban Texting In School Zones

This small group of teenagers might have gotten the message, but officers worry just as much about the grownups who spend so much time with electronic devices behind the wheel.

As it is now, distracted driving is against the law, but officers can only stop someone for it if they break another law in the process.

The only ban on texting still being considered is one on texting while driving in school zones.